Irish rugby players have until Thursday to appeal French decision to send for trial

Denis Coulson charged with participating in alleged gang rape in Bordeaux while Chris Farrell is charged with failing to prevent the crime

Two Irish rugby players, Denis Coulson and Chris Farrell, have until Thursday to appeal the decision to send them forward for trial in a French assises court, which hears serious criminal cases.

Mr Coulson is charged along with two former colleagues from the FC Grenoble team of participating in an alleged gang rape in the early hours of March 12th, 2017 in a hotel in Mérignac, on the outskirts of Bordeaux.

Mr Farrell and another player are charged with failing to prevent the crime, the Bordeaux appeals court confirmed on September 22nd.

The five accused have until close of business on Thursday to appeal the decision to send them to trial. A lawyer involved in the case said that at least three of the men intend to appeal to the court of cassation, France’s highest court, which could annul proceedings only if proper procedure is found to have been violated in the case.

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Even one appeal will suspend the case for all concerned until the court of cassation deliberates. A trial is unlikely before at least one year.

Though charged with different crimes, all five men would be tried in the same place at the same time, almost certainly in the assises court of the Gironde region, which is located in Bordeaux.

Mr Coulson, now age 28, the French player Loick Jammes (27) and New Zealander Rory Grice, (32) were originally sent to trial on June 12th 2019. They appealed that decision, and their appeal was rejected by the Bordeaux appeals court on September 22nd.

By appealing, the three inadvertently unleashed proceedings against Mr Farrell (29) and Dylan Hayes (28) from New Zealand. Initially, they were not charged with any offence, but the appeals court requested a supplementary investigation into their role on May 27th, 2021 and formally placed them under investigation in July 2021.

Mr Farrell and Mr Hayes were charged on September 22nd for the first time with not preventing the alleged gang rape. A judiciary source in Bordeaux said the appeals court had found “sufficient evidence that Mr Farrell and Mr Hayes failed to prevent the crime committed in Bordeaux on March 12th, 2017 and ordered that they be charged and sent before the assises court of the Gironde”.

The three rugby players charged with gang rape could be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison if convicted. The maximum punishment for failing to prevent a crime is five years in prison.

Mr Coulson had played professional rugby for three French teams and Connacht. He ended his professional career after playing for US Carcassonne during the 2019-2020 season, the Agence France Presse (AFP) reported.

After Mr Farrell was charged, Munster Rugby announced that he will stop playing for the team while legal proceedings continue in France.

A French woman student who was aged 21 at the time allegedly met rugby players in a pub after their team, FC Grenoble, played a Top 14 match against Union Bordeaux-Bègles.

The rugby players and the young woman then went to a disco in Bordeaux. The woman accompanied the players to their hotel at about 4am on March 12th.

Mr Farrell’s lawyer says that he fractured his ankle in the game on March 11th and had returned straight from the stadium to his hotel room, with the assistance of staff.*

Witnesses who saw the young woman at 7.30am described her as extremely upset and having difficulty expressing herself. She told a taxi driver “I was raped. There were several of them”. She filed a complaint at the Bordeaux commissariat the same day.

The question of consent is central to the case. Denis Dreyfus, the lawyer for Loick Jammes, told AFP that in her first statement the victim said she feared she had consented.

The victim’s lawyer, Anne Cadiot-Feidt, said she expected the rugby players to appeal to the court of cassation because they wanted to prolong their professional careers for as long as possible. (The three accused from France and New Zealand have continued to play.)

The September 22nd decision by the appeals court “clearly establishes” the vulnerability of the victim at the time of the events, Ms Cadiot-Feidt told AFP. “There could not have been consent”.

* This article was amended on Friday, September 30th, 2022.

Lara Marlowe

Lara Marlowe

Lara Marlowe is Paris Correspondent of The Irish Times